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Product Reviews

  1. Hardware Review: XoByte miniSpark Startup/Shutdown Controller

    by , 05-17-2010 at 09:11 AM


    What is it?


    The XoByte miniSpark is a startup and shutdown controller that uses Wake-On-LAN capabilities to handle startup and shutdown of your laptop or PC.

    The Verdict: If you use a laptop or netbook as your car PC you should own a miniSpark. The people at XoByte have seemingly created the perfect solution to handling the startup and shutdown of a computer and it's associated accessories in the car. The one thing that impresses me the most is the control it gives the user, all while using only your LAN port and saving a precious USB port.



    What's in the box?

    The XoByte miniSpark comes with the main controller box, a 6-wire connector, and a pair of automotive fuse adapters for 12v power.


    Description:

    The XoByte miniSpark is a powerful device which allows control of a netbook,laptop, or personal computer's startup and shutdown capabilities through Wake-On-LAN technology. The real power in the miniSpark comes from the user's ability to control its various functions all from within the miniSpark Configuration GUI. This tool is compatible with Windows computers running XP or higher, and allows even beginner users to control the miniSpark's functions with both ease and simplicity.


    After a brief period in which the miniSpark checks to see if the device is connected, the GUI is presented. The top left box in the GUI is nothing more than a set of status indicators which give you the real-time view of each of the 2 inputs and 2 outputs of the miniSpark. If a WOL shutdown event occurs the miniSpark GUI will display the system status on the LED images and also via a pop-up which counts the time remaining to shutdown.


    The bottom left gives users the ability to use either of the 2 inputs to run the appropriate user-configurable shutdown command with the shutdown and startup delays specified. As if the basic settings weren't powerful enough, XoByte allows configuration of both outputs independently. This allows one miniSpark unit to individually shutdown and power up 2 different devices with there own unique settings. For advanced users this capability is invaluable because you can control things like USB hubs, lighting, and other self-powered devices independently of the PC. Each output can be controlled with either included inputs or totally manually through the miniSpark configuration utility. The outputs can also be delayed at startup or shutdown after the PC has been started or shutdown. The ability to set your pulse-width for outputs and to set repeating triggers means the XoByte miniSpark is as flexible as you will ever find a shutdown controller to be. There is even an API available which allows the control of the miniSpark configuration utility to be harnessed in a user-selected front end.


    Despite the flexibility of its software setup, the miniSpark is just as easy to install as any other automotive power supply. Because its not a fully-functional power supply, the miniSpark's red power wire can be powered through an 1-amp automotive fuse. XoByte was even kind enough to include a set of automotive fuse adapters so you can just plug into your vehicles fuse box to power the device. The black wire as in most cases is the ground. The white and green wires are input #1 and #2 respectively, and would in most cases be connected to the automobiles accessory or ignition lines. Should you only wish to use a single input the green wire can be ignored. Lastly, the brown and blue wires are #1 and #2 output wires. PCs that are not "magic frame" WOL capable will need to use one of the outputs to power on the PC through the ACPI lines.

    Once wired, the XoByte miniSpark hardware is ready to go. The only other notable feature would be the single green LED which shows the status of the miniSpark through a series of blinks.


    The Positive:

    • Small hideaway box, but so much power and control capabilities
    • Allows startup/shutdown control without opening up a laptop
    • Uses WOL technology, saving a USB port• Efficiently runs on less than 1 amp
    • A simple GUI which continues to be updated with more control features
    • Ability to control multiple accessory outputs with multiple individually controlled inputs
    • API available for front end integration

    The Negative:

    • Windows XP+ only
    • Computer must be WOL "Magic Frame" capatible for WOL use

    The Verdict:

    If you use a laptop or netbook as your car PC you should own a miniSpark. The people at XoByte have seemingly created the perfect solution to handling the startup and shutdown of a computer and its associated accessories in the car. The one thing that impresses me the most is the control it gives the user, all while using only your LAN port and saving a precious USB port.

    Updated 05-17-2010 at 11:24 AM by Sonicxtacy02

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  2. Hardware Review: Habey USA BIS-6620 Ultra-Compact PC

    by , 05-12-2010 at 10:53 AM

    What is it?

    The Habey BIS-6620 is a SFF PC powered by an Intel Atom Z510 processor.

    The Verdict: The Habey USA BIS-6620 is an absolute marvel of a design. The manufacturer has created fully functioning PC cable of running the latest software in a form factor which can fit in the palm of your hand. Quite frankly, the BIS-6620 could be used at home, in the car, or as an embedded platform. Unfortunately it’s small size and power-sipping capabilities mean this PC would probably be a lot more comfortable with Windows Embedded than with Windows 7.

    The BIS-6620 is available now at the MP3Car store



    What's in the box:


    The BIS-6620 comes with the PC, a PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse splitter cable, 12v power brick, and driver and utilities installation disc. Also included are four long screws for VESA mount support.

    Description:

    Right out of the box the Habey USA BIS-6620 has a certain “wow” factor. Measuring at only 4.5 x 4.5 x 1.5”, it immediately has the potential to be everyone’s dream car PC. The BIS-6620 is also built with a completely fan-less design, making it silent in operation. It’s powered by a single-core Intel Z510 processor clocked at 1 GHz and is built to use up to 2 GHz of SODIMM (laptop) ram. Despite its size, the BIS-6620 is surprisingly flexible when it comes to drive storage. Internally, the 6620 accepts a 1.8” SATA hard drive. However, thanks to a bios setting which allows removable drives to be emulated as physical disks, you have the option to install and run your primary operating system from a compact flash card. There is also an SD card slot on the front of the PC just adjacent to the CF slot.

    The BIS-6620 is powered by a simple 12v power brick, further enhancing its potential to be used as a car PC. The computer is a true power-sipper, and can be run with less than 10w and 2amps. It’s hard to imagine that a PC that’s fully capable of running windows 7 can do so with less power than your average car speaker requires to play sound.

    Upon installing the components required to make the BIS-6620 power up, I connected a USB DVD-Rom and installed a fresh copy of windows 7 32-bit. Once installation was complete I was brought into the OS. I quickly noticed that the BIS-6620 doesn’t support Aero, or the transparent glass effects on a standard non-Aero windows 7 installation. Moving through windows dialogs seemed to occur with ample speed, but waiting for basic programs like Wndows Media Payer and Centrafuse 3 became quite the chore even at their most basic program settings. It’s clear that while there are many pros to the BIS-6620, the obvious setback is the 1 GHz processor. That said; the BIS-6620 handled MP3 playback with ease. It will even play 1080p videos with little to no skipping and video sync issues thanks to hardware decoding.


    Video is provided only via VGA or S-Video connections. There is no support for DVI or HDMI and based on the form factor of the BIS-6620 (Habey has different models that do have DVI & HDMI output in the same form factor), you probably won’t be adding a video card capable of such. There is a single audio output jack on the front, and a microphone input just next to that. The lack of a line-in jack means your radio and other input devices better have “audio over USB” support. There is a single LAN port, a total of 4 USB ports, and a single PS/2 which can provide both keyboard and mouse support with the enclosed splitter cable.


    The case of the BIS-6620 is a marvel in itself. The finned design on the top serves as a fully functioning heat-sink for the Intel processor. Because of this design the casing does run hotter than your average computer case, but never to the point where the case was simply too hot to touch. On the edges of the case are four holes which allow the BIS-6620 to be mounted on a VESA mount. All this allows for the BIS-6620 to truly be an ultra-compact, silent, and unseen fully functioning PC.

    The Positive:

    • Small design but capable fully functioning PC
    • Flexible storage options
    • Performance and reliability of the Intel Atom product
    • Energy efficient design (

    Updated 05-26-2010 at 11:33 AM by Jensen2000

    Tags: habey, bis, 6620, fanless, pc Add / Edit Tags
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  3. Software Review: Jukebox Jockey Home Edition

    by , 04-27-2010 at 02:45 PM


    What is it?

    Jukebox Jockey is a touch-friendly media player and karaoke front end.

    The Verdict:The Jukebox Jockey software has been a joy to review. Its very feature-rich and some new innovations not yet seen in the car PC arena. The software is as simple or as flexible as you choose for it to be and never gets in a users way thanks to a clever GUI. Any mobile PC user looking for well-supported program to manage most of their media on the go should look first at Jukebox Jockey.

    Jukebox Jockey is available now at http://www.jukeboxjockey.com/



    Description:

    Jukebox Jockey is a windows application built to be a simple yet fully functioning media player. It’s different from the multitude of existing media player software in that Jukebox Jockey is built from the ground up to be touchscreen-friendly. This obviously has plenty of benefits on a small screened car PC, but Jukebox Jockey also shines in a party environment. Most of my review will focus on Jukebox Jockeys aspirations as a simple media car PC front end, but I will say the app is simply the best application out there for controlling music, video, and karaoke playback for a group of people.



    A person looking for a simple and powerful media player for their 7-inch touchscreen should seriously consider Jukebox Jockey. While it lacks the expansion that most other commercially available mobile PC front ends offer, it does what it’s meant to do with absolute ease. The entire interface is skinnable. The buttons are large enough to be pressed on your standard car touchscreen and for the most part they are text-labeled when they need to be. This means you know what the button does before you press it. While the application will run at 800x600, the developer is currently working on skinning options for resolutions that low. There is no “home” screen which houses all of the media options, rather a simple “Change Mode” button which brings up a small menu which allows selection.



    From there, it’s easy to find the media you’re looking for. The top portion of the application window allows you to select how you wish to find your media. Browse-by-album-art is present, and will perhaps be the preferred method. The ability to sort by decades is a new and welcomed feature when comparing to other vehicle front ends. There is also a pretty handy instant search function which searches for results each time a key on the on-screen QWERTY keyboard is pressed. All media is scanned into Jukebox Jockey via the options button on the top of the application. Scanning media is relatively quick, but it does have to be done each time new music/videos are added.



    Playlists are housed on the right side of the application window. Jukebox Jockey has a different take on playlist handling. By default, the playlist shrinks as songs are played. In Jukebox Jockey the playlist is more of a request list, and this makes sense considering the software doubles as DJ software. Overall the music and video players rivals most other media players on the market.



    What you won’t find in most media players and especially on car PCs is a karaoke mode. This mode was by far the most fun to use in a party environment, but I did have passengers in the car playing as I drove down the road. Jukebox Jockey is very easy for passengers and newcomers to control. There is even a specific party mode which administrators can enable to lock down settings and controls that secondary users would not need access too.

    The Positive:

    • Built to be touchscreen friendly
    • Built-in media library which organizes/searches media in a multitude of ways
    • Fully Skinnable• 2nd Screen support for media information and karaoke lyrics
    • Simple installation on any PC with windows XP or newer
    • Small footprint and doesn’t use too much memory
    • Easy to use for beginners, a huge list of options for experienced users
    • Bass audio engine for high audio fidelity
    • Actively supported

    The Negative:

    • Video player did not support h264 encoded videos

    • No current skin for 800x480

    The Verdict:

    The Jukebox Jockey software has been a joy to review. Its very feature-rich and some new innovations not yet seen in the car PC arena. The software is as simple or as flexible as you choose for it to be and never gets in a users way thanks to a clever GUI. Any mobile PC user looking for well-supported program to manage most of their media on the go should look first at Jukebox Jockey.

    Jukebox Jockey is available now at http://www.jukeboxjockey.com/

    Updated 04-27-2010 at 03:11 PM by Sonicxtacy02

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  4. Hardware Review: Lilliput 669GL-70NP/C/T 7" HDMI Monitor

    by , 04-26-2010 at 10:05 AM


    What is it?

    The Lilliput 669GL is a brand new 7” touchscreen monitor featuring HDMI connectivity.

    The Verdict:

    When weighing the new features with some of the things still missing in a 2010 Lilliput model, its clear to see that the 669GL is the first model in what many hope will be the future of small touchscreen monitors. Lilliput obviously spent time and focus on getting HDMI/DVI capabilities to work, and they DO work. This is the clearest Lilliput display out there, as long as you are not working in the sun.

    See the Lilliput 669GL on the mp3Car Store here.



    What’s in the box?



    The Lilliput 669GL comes packed with practically every kind of cable you would need to use with the monitor. Included is an HDMI to HDMI-USB cable, HDMI to DVI-USB cable, VGA to VGA-USB cable, and a DIN to composite (2 input) cable. For power, the 669GL comes with both a home A/C adapter plug and a 12v DC car charger cable. The 669GL also comes with a standard VESA mount, remote control with battery, touchscreen driver CD, and instruction manual.

    Description:

    The 669GL-70NP/C/T is the latest 7” touchscreen monitor Lilliput has released. To my knowledge it is the first 7” monitor of its kind to feature on-board HDMI connection. The creators were wise to leave compatibility with the tried and true VGA connection, and even threw a HDMI to DVI cable to further enhance compatibility. Regardless of your preferred input source, the Lilliput 669 has you covered.



    Though it makes hardly any difference when connecting to 669GL to a standard computer, car PC enthusiast should find the HDMI connection a lifesaver when it comes to getting a monitor installed in a vehicle. This is of course is provided they have the motherboard and/or video card that accepts either an HDMI or DVI connector. Prior models of Lilliput and other small monitors in the car PC community have suffered from screen ghosting and/or flickering as a result of having to run long strands of analog cabling inside a motor vehicle where interference issues tend to be more prevalent. I made it a point to test this issue with a full-digital HDMI connection. My aging Lilliput 629 installed in the dash of my RSX has always had some level of flickering and the ghosting of images and text is just something I grew to live with. I’m happy to say that the connecting the HDMI from my Intel DG45FC motherboard directly to the Lilliput 669 immediately solved BOTH problems.



    I also noticed shortly after powering up the PC that the colors on the screen just appear deeper than with previous Lilliput screens. I don’t know if it’s the digital connection or perhaps the new LCD panel installed in the 669GL, but the color and contrast is among the best I’ve seen on a 7” screen. Text appears sharper than before, even in the 1024x768 photos shown above. With an HDMI connection the screen is fully capable with 1080i/p playback, a feat that's extremely impressive for a rather small screen.The Lilliput 669GL features an all new bezel, new LCD panel (Innolux AT070TN82), and a new, slightly larger controller board. This of course means someone wanting to upgrade from an older lilliput may find complications in there existing fabrication when switching to the 669GL. The HDMI sticks out more than the previous VGA cable. This coupled with the larger controller board means the 669GL is not easily compatible with enclosures such as the double-din enclosure that MP3car store sells. I was able to just barely make the enclosure work by using a right-angle HDMI adapter and alternate means of securing the controller board to the enclosure.



    The main problem you encounter with the 669GL occurs when you place this monitor into direct sunlight. For some unknown reason, the manufacturer decided to scale back the brightness on the 669GL. The rating in the monitor’s specification is just 250 nits. If there were one absolute bummer when it comes to the 669GL it’s that its just not meant to be used sunlight. The colors completely wash out, and because the screen is not transflective you must deal with a tremendous amount of glare before even beginning to interpret what’s on screen. Below are two comparison photos; the first is with no flash taken with my digital camera, the second with flash and a rather low ISO.



    Unfortunately, the brightness on the LCD isn’t the only thing missing from the Lilliput 669GL. It does not currently have the ability to automatically switch to an auxiliary input upon connection of a 12v source. This means us with rear-view cameras must come up with another plan to see what we’re backing up into. Prior model Lilliputs like the 629 had the ability to modify the controller panel to accommodate this feature but to this point it’s not possible to do on the 669GL.One feature that’s missing that perhaps will not affect car PC users is the lack of backlit buttons on the front of the enclosure. To my knowledge this is the first Lilliput that has had this missing. The power button lights up, barely, but the other buttons remain in the dark.The last feature that didn’t make the cut is the ability to control the screens brightness via a photosensor on the enclosure. At first glance it appears the IR receiver on the front of the Lilliput bezel has been modified to accommodate this in the same manner than competing Xenarc and other devices do, but in testing I see no difference in screen brightness between light and dark rooms.

    The Positive:

    • HDMI connectivity
    • Abundance of wiring options
    • Cleaner display with rich color and better contrast
    • Native resolution of 800x480, with the ability to display 1080p
    • Auto-power on when video signal is detected
    • Priced well to compete with other manufacturers

    The Negative:
    • Lower brightness rating than competing products
    • No auto-switch capability
    • No auto-dimmer found in competing products
    • STILL no transflective!
    • New controller board means incompatility with some bezels on the market

    The Verdict:

    When weighing the new features with some of the things still missing in a 2010 Lilliput model, its clear to see that the 669GL is the first model in what many hope will be the future of small touchscreen monitors. Lilliput obviously spent time and focus on getting HDMI/DVI capabilities to work, and they DO work. This is the clearest Lilliput display out there, as long as you are not working in the sun.

    See the Lilliput 669GL on the mp3Car Store here.

    Updated 04-26-2010 at 10:14 AM by Sonicxtacy02

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    Product Reviews
  5. Hardware Review: ToughBox 15 Chenbro Based Intel D510MO Mini ITX System

    by , 02-26-2010 at 11:59 AM


    What is it?

    The Mp3car Toughbox 15 is a Chenbro based mini-ITX computer built with an Intel D510MO motherboard. Mp3car allows a full line of customization options with the Toughbox 15, and the price for a self-installed Toughbox 15 starts at only $279.00

    The Verdict:

    The Toughbox 15 is perhaps the most versatile bundle that Mp3car has currently. It seems to have the flexibility to find a niche no matter where it’s installed. Everything with the Toughbox 15 works… and it works quietly, elegantly and efficiently. Whether you’re looking for a do-it-all car computer platform, a sturdy quiet and energy-efficient workstation, or a stable and reliable embedded application, the Toughbox 15 from Mp3car can work for you.

    See the ToughBox 15 on the mp3Car Store here.



    What’s in the box?


    The base Toughbox 15 system consists of a Chenbro mini ITX enclosure, an optional vertical stand, an Intel D510MO motherboard with an integrated Intel Atom D510 processor, 512 MHz of DDR2 ram, and a 160GB laptop grade hard drive. The Chenbro case has openings for 2 front USB ports and connectors front-case audio. The Toughbox 15 also comes standard with a 60w power supply and A/C adapter. The Toughbox 15 differs from the previous systems sold by Mp3car as it comes fully tested and assembled with no extra cost. Optionally, Mp3car allows expansion of the Toughbox 15 by adding a 2 port USB module, a Panasonic UJ-875-A slot-load DVD/CD drive, 2GHz of DDR 2 Ram, an Intel 80GB solid-state hard drive, Nano USB Bluetooth dongle, and an external USB 802.11B/G/N Wifi Card. To further aid in the installation process Mp3car will optionally install Windows 7 Professional operating system, and add a M2-ATX vehicle power supply. The total price for the Toughbox 15 with all included options is $967.94.

    Description:

    The Toughbox 15, like the Toughbox 14, is a small, lightweight and powerful dual-core computing system. Its design and specifications prove the Toughbox 15 is worthy of more than just a basic car PC installation. In fact, with the look of its sleek and elegant case, the Toughbox 15 may be better suited as a workstation or an embedded platform. The Chenbro case is simply the best looking case I’ve seen to date in the hobby. There’s a large chrome colored power switch on the front of the case which illuminates with a bright but not intrusive blue ring of LEDs. The edges are curved and the included vertical stand shows the Toughbox 15 would be right at home on any desk or HTPC rack out there.






    The Toughbox 15 also improves on its power specifications from the Toughbox 14. It uses the new Intel D510 dual-core processor. Though its clock speed varies only slightly from the Atom N270 (1.66 GHz vs. 1.6 GHz), the D510 handles itself quite well with video playback and more CPU-intensive programs. The Toughbox’s processor is passively cooled, which means less noise in your workspace, while taking up less than three quarters of the size of today’s conventional desktop workstations.




    I feel it’d be a shame to take the design of the Toughbox 15 and install it in a trunk or behind a panel in an automobile, but that doesn’t mean the Toughbox 15 isn’t ready for the task. Simply remove the standard 60w PSU and mount a M2-ATX automotive power supply, and the Toughbox 15 will handle any car PC task. It runs Flux Media’s Centrafuse Auto on its highest graphic and effect settings with no lag. iNav iGuidance and iGo 8 PC will run embedded into a front end flawlessly.


    As with most computers, the magic is inside the case. Removing the outer shell of the Chenbro case revealed the D510MO motherboard with a fan-less heat sink covering both the embedded processor and chipset.


    To my approval, the 2 available RAM slots are spaced far enough from the heat sink that installing a chip of RAM isn’t nearly as painful as with most embedded dual-core setups. To the right of the motherboard in a vertical mount is the included 60w power supply.




    The standard power supply connects to the outside 12v A/C adapter through a barrel connector on the rear of the case. This same connector can be connected to the optional M2-atx, meaning less loose wires cluttering up the rear of your case in the event you want to install the Toughbox in a vehicle.

    Unlike the Toughbox 14, the Toughbox 15’s enclosure has enough space to house a laptop style slot-load dvd/cd combo drive. This again shows that the Toughbox would fit right at home or in the workplace. The combo drive’s wires are all run to the motherboard, meaning no USB slots are taken like with most car PCs. Sharing a bracket with the combo drive is a 160GB laptop grade hard drive. Mp3car does have options for hard drive installations in the Toughbox 15, and most car PC users should probably elect to use the 40GB ruggedized drive or perhaps the 80GB solid state drive available.

    The rear of the Toughbox 15 is of standard ITX PC fare, the only real difference is the presence of the barrel-connector mentioned earlier. There are 4 USB ports assuring an abundance of connectivity options. There’s your standard VGA connector, Ethernet connector, and the standard 3 audio connectors. Instead of opting for more USB or firewire connection options, Intel decided to keep standard ps/2 connectors for keyboard and mouse. It baffles me why they decided to keep these connectors on a new motherboard, especially considering most hardware manufacturers don’t even make ps/2 keyboard and mouse devices anymore. The rear is also missing a DVI port, something that’s been included in nearly every other motherboard Intel has released in the last 2 years.


    Aside from those 2 questionable calls, the rear connectors on the back of the Toughbox 15 are clean and nicely spaced, allowing for hassle free installation in both the workplace and the car.

    The Positive:

    • Absolute beautiful and well thought out casing
    • Customizable to individual user needs
    • Performance and reliability of the Intel dual-core product
    • Energy efficient design
    • Flexible enough to be installed in the home, work, or car
    • Small form factor which allows for multiple mounting options
    • Comes with power supply for the home and options for the car

    The Negative:

    • Sacrifices USB connectors for legacy ps/2 connectors
    • No DVI display output
    • Use of more than 2 channel audio requires an additional header connection
    • Cost when compared to self-built self-sourced system

    The Verdict:

    The Toughbox 15 is perhaps the most versatile bundle that Mp3car has currently. It seems to have the flexibility to find a niche no matter where it’s installed. Everything with the Toughbox 15 works… and it works quietly, elegantly and efficiently. Whether you’re looking for a do-it-all car computer platform, a sturdy quiet and energy-efficient workstation, or a stable and reliable embedded application, the Toughbox 15 from Mp3car can work for you.

    See the ToughBox 15 on the mp3Car Store here.